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Innovation and Boldness Are Being Rewarded During Pandemic

“There are no ‘enemies’ of innovation, but it is a question of complacency and inertia, of innovation perhaps not being top of mind. I hear often ‘we’ve never done it that way’ or ‘we’ve always done it that way.’”
That quote comes from Kerstin Fröhlich, head of innovation management at German media company Spiegel Verlag in an article on FIPP’s World Media Congress on the What’s New in Publishing site. Fröhlich spoke about how the German media power is “baking innovation into its organizational culture. Despite everyone agreeing that innovation is something they want to prioritize, its value must be consistently reiterated.”
An initial response to publishing life in the pandemic might have been to play down innovation and go with what you know, but what we know has been upended. The more I read, it’s the companies that are being bold and innovative that are doing well.
Here are some successful ways I’ve come across.
Reach out into new areas. Future plc, a member of our Connectiv group, has just announced profits of around $110 million for 2020, up from operating profits of $68.7 million in 2019. How have they done it? “[Future] stands out in its confidence and performance,” independent media analyst Alex DeGroote told Digiday. “Some of its products skew towards gaming—like Techradar—and gaming has gone nuts in lockdown.” Speaking at FIPP, Claire MacLellan, COO at Future, said: “We set out to become global and to have multiple revenue streams. In acquisitions”—they recently acquired Marie Claire among other brands—“we look for ways of bringing in expertise that align with the strategy and really add to the business’s strengths.”
Come up with new event ideas. These event boxes are taking off. Donna Jefferson of Chesapeake Family told me that she is planning to mail out an “event box” to attendees to a virtual event they are holding in October—possibly with sponsorships on both the inside and outside of the box. Bustle Digital Group has started giving away product kits ahead of some of its sponsored events. These kits include items like yoga mats—for its virtual yoga retreat—and lip glosses in order to make for a more immersive experience, but also to get attendees more engaged with the sponsoring brands. The event kits were complementary for the first 150 attendees to RSVP.” Always good to set a limit like that.
Strive for interactivity. This is a different industry but… Geffen “Stayhouse” (formerly Playhouse) in Los Angeles has a new show which follows the hugely successful The Present—which featured those mailed event boxes. “Inside the Box takes us into the exhilarating world of games with New York Times crossword constructor David Kwong. Twenty-four guests will have a front-row seat to an entirely interactive show of puzzles, while David regales them with stories of the most extraordinary puzzle-makers throughout history.” Q&As, roundtables, chat rooms, trivia games, polling… whatever you can do to be interactive, do it.
Adapt your content to audience needs. “There have been real challenges with COVID-19, but the significant point is that our audiences required something different through this time, so we had to pivot quite quickly to create content that mattered to them during some of the most difficult times of their lives,” said MacLellan. The pandemic has augmented the role of the media in people’s lives, and “scale brings opportunity,” she added. Jared Waters, training director for BVR who planned their Virtual Divorce Conference this week, said this is “not a personal growth year. It’s, ‘What do I need to know to survive?’ It’s all COVID-19 related.” Content from people in your community on the frontlines has been hugely rewarding these last few months.
Use virtual’s strengths. I just saw that Mario Garcia, who was a hit at our BIMS conference last year, keynoted WAN IFRA’s Asian Media Leaders eSummit in July. And why not. This year, a trip across the globe to speak has become a trip to your home office to speak. Think big for your speakers. “One of the interesting things about working from home [is] that we could dive in, get on a phone call very quickly and agree that we want to do this and we don’t have time to do 100 meetings,” said Scott Havens, chief growth officer and global head of strategic partnerships at Bloomberg Media U.S. “Hopefully this moment will be a breeding ground for new innovations to connect digital and live in a much more profound way than we do today.”
Did someone say, “hybrid”?